How Many Shipping Containers can Fit on a Ship?


How Many Shipping Containers can Fit on a Ship?

The number of containers a ship can carry depends on the type of ship and the size of individual containers. Different ships have different capacities. To understand the capacity of a shipping container boat, you first need to know about standard container sizes.

Around the world, the container capacity of ocean freights is measured in container unit size. While there are various types of containers, the capacity of cargo ships is measured in TEU.

What is TEU?

TUE in shipping refers to a standard container size. This container is twenty feet long. Hence, the unit named after it is called Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit or TEU. A standard TEU container is 20 ft. x 8 ft. x 8 ft. A container of this size occupies a volume of 1,280 cubic feet. The capacity of a ship to carry such containers is called its TEU capacity.  


The TEU capacity of a ship tells you how much volume it can carry. For instance, say the maximum TEU capacity of a shipping container boat is 5,000. It means that this ship can carry five thousand 20 ft containers. This amounts to a volume of 64,00,000 cubic feet or 19,50,720 cubic metres. 

A ship should not carry more containers than its maximum TEU capacity. This limit is set based on the size and gross tonnage of a ship.

What is the TEU Capacity of Different Container Ships?

The TEU capacity of a ship depends on several factors. These include its size, surface area, weight, and so on. Based on TEU capacity, ships are divided into different categories.

Feeder Ships

These small container ships can carry up to 3,000 TEUs. They are further divided into Small Feeder, Feeder, and Feeder Max. The small feeder has a capacity for 1,000 TEUs or less. A feeder ship can fit 1,000 to 2,000 TEUs. A Feedermax can carry a load of 2,000 to 3,000 containers. 

Feeders are the smallest type of container ship. These ships work well for small-distance shipping. But, they cost more per unit because of their limited carrying capacity.

Panamax Ships

Ships of the Panamax category can carry between 3,001 to 5,100 TEUs. These vessels are called Panamax as they were designed to pass through the Panama Canal. Owing to the limitations of the canal, the container ship size was limited. Such ships are usually 290 metres long. 

After 1934, Post-Panamax and New-Panamax ships began to cruise the oceans. The Post Panamax ships have a capacity of 5,101 to 10,000 TEU. New-Panamax ships are even larger. They have a TEU capacity of 10,000 to 14,500. Post-Panamax and New-Panamax ships are usually 366 metres long.

As Panamax ships have better carrying capacity than feeder ships, the cost of transportation per unit is lower. Though they are bigger than feeder ships, they are not the biggest cargo ships in the world. That honour goes to ULCV ships. 

But, Panamax ships can better navigate several paths with geographical restrictions. These ships are designed to pass through canals. Hence, they can take shortcuts that are difficult for ULCV ships.

Ultra Large Container Ships (ULCV)

This category includes some of the largest container ships in the world. ULCV ships can carry more than 14,501 TEUs. They are longer than 366 metres. Some of the largest ships in this category span up to 400 metres.


ULCV ships can carry a lot of volumes over long distances. Hence, they have the lowest transport cost per unit. They also have some limitations. Owing to their size, these ships cannot pass through certain regions. These limitations do not bother these mammoths in the open ocean.

Which is the Biggest Cargo Ship in the World by TEU Capacity?

The biggest cargo ship in the world is Evergreen Alot. This ship has a maximum TEU capacity of 24,004 units. This ship is built by Samsung Heavy Industries and China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC). 

Evergreen Alot is closely followed by Evergreen Aria and Evergreen Atop. Though these evergreen ships’ sizes and capacities are nearly the same, Evergreen Alot wins by a little margin. All these ships are managed by Evergreen Marine Corporation.

It is important to note that 24,004 TEUs is the theoretical maximum capacity of Evergreen Alot. It does not mean that these container ships carry that volume on every trip. Despite being the largest container ship in the world, Evergreen Alot does not hold the record for carrying the most containers in one trip.

Which Ship Has Carried Most Containers in History?

Evergreen Ace holds the record for carrying the most containers on a voyage. This cargo ship carried 21,710 TEUs in August 2021 from Yantian in China to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The ship is a predecessor of Evergreen Alot and is managed by the same company.

What Would Be The TEU Capacity of Cargo Ships in the Future?

Since 1968, the capacity of shipping container boats has increased by 1,500%. Even the largest shipping container boat might not hold its record for long. A ship called MSC Irina will soon overtake Evergreen Alot in terms of maximum TEU capacity. Theoretically, this ship can carry up to 24,346 TEU containers.

Though ships are likely to grow larger in the near future. There is an upper limit to size. According to the BBC, this limit has less to do with engineering challenges and more with geographical limitations.

Some of the biggest cargo ships are difficult to manoeuvre through canals. For instance, Ever Given—one of the largest container ships in the world—got stuck in the Suez Canal in March 2021. This ship was nearly 400 metres long with a TEU capacity of 20,124. This incident blocked the Suez Canal for six days resulting in a loss of $10 billion in trade.

Larger ships also find it difficult to dock at many of the ports in the world. The lack of ocean depth in many coastal regions limits the accessibility to such ships. We might see bigger ships cruising the oceans, but they would have limited utility. 

Such ships would only get to access a select few routes and dock only at larger ports. But, they will provide a great boost to international trade as they would be able to carry several containers on each trip.

Image Sources: Awesomescreenshot, Containerfaqs

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